By on December 11, 2019

The European Union has approved a 3.2 billion-euro fund to promote the research and development of battery technology, with cash pouring in from Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Sweden. While Brussels has been on an electrification push ever since Europe fell out of love with diesel, now may not be the best time to double down on EVs.

We recently covered China’s ailing automotive market, noting the poor performance of new energy vehicles (which fell by at least 40 percent vs the previous November). We’ve also covered a survey showing how eager the nation’s consumer base appeared to be to purchase them, with both writer and readership wondering how reliable those figures actually were. Our collective dubiousness appears to have been valid. Despite being the top region for EV sales, new data from Bernstein Research claims about 70 percent of the 1.2 million electric or gasoline-electric hybrid models sold in China over the past year went directly to government or corporate fleets. When the government started removing subsidies, sales plummeted with little private interest to soften the impact.

Europe may be on a vaguely similar path. While worldwide EV sales are up about 13 percent through October, sales in North America are down 2 percent (at 301,000 deliveries), with Europe rising 37 percent (to 395,000). That’s partially due to European cities being closer together (with more charging points between them), though most EU member states also offer various electric vehicle purchasing incentives and tax exemptions. They’ve likewise adopted stricter environmental rules that make EVs more appetizing to own in the future.  (Read More…)

By on December 10, 2019

China’s car market, officially the world’s largest, is bracing for its second year of negative growth. November was the fourth consecutive month of declining year-over-year sales, representing an improvement from October despite volume dropping 4.2 per cent below last November’s tally. Unfortunately for China, the downward trend has not been the exception, but the rule.

According to the Hong Kong based South China Morning Post, the China Passenger Car Association (CPCA) was hoping for better. “The market failed to live up to expectations of a strong rebound in November,” said Cui Dongshu, secretary general of the CPCA. “Consumer demand remained weak as people are reluctant to spend on big-ticket items due to worries about a bleak economic outlook.”

This matters in the West because domestic manufacturers have bent over backwards to try and improve sales within the region, expending no small amount of energy or capital in the process. China’s citizenry are also changing their tastes to cope with a weakening economy, and it would be wise to look at the choices they’re making.  (Read More…)

By on December 9, 2019

Russia’s largest automotive manufacturer, AvtoVAZ, announced Monday that it plans to buy General Motors out of its regional joint venture. The duo previously assembled Chevrolet-branded automobiles for the local market; however, GM lost interest after the market took a turn for the worse.

While sanctions from Western nations and falling oil prices upended Russia’s economy a few years ago, it was already headed for hard times. Wages have stagnated and average citizens no longer possess the same level of buying power they held a decade earlier. The Russian Economic Development Ministry predicts just a 1-2 percent growth rate up to 2030 and leadership doesn’t seem terribly interested in improving the situation for the citizenry, deciding instead to raise taxes on just about everything. GM was probably right to get out.  (Read More…)

By on December 6, 2019

Replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has proven difficult for the Trump administration. Trade negotiations have progressed slowly, with Mexico, Canada, and the United States rarely seeing eye-to-eye on most issues. Some of the biggest problems have dealt with content requirements.

The latest hangup stems from a rule requiring 70 percent of the steel and aluminum found in North American vehicles to come from the same continent in order to ensure a duty-free existence. Mexico isn’t keen on the proposal — as it sources a large amount of metal from Brazil, Japan and Germany. Meanwhile, the United States is attempting to use the inclusion to appease the United Steelworkers union and keep labor-focused jobs in the country.  (Read More…)

By on December 6, 2019

If you follow the automotive industry at all, you’re undoubtedly aware that the United States is a region that hasn’t quite embraced automotive electrification on the same level as the rest of the developed world. Americans travel longer distances and have particular tastes, making EVs more popular in places like Europe and China. It also hasn’t passed the same sweeping regulations to ensure their advancement.

Whatever the cause, a new survey from London-based OC&C Strategy Consultants attempted to tabulate the disparity — asking 2,000 consumers (apiece) in the U.S., China, Germany, France and United Kingdom between March and April of 2019.

Their findings? Only about half of the surveyed Americans felt EVs were worth their consideration as a potential successor to their current ride. In China, 90 percent said they would seriously consider buying electric. Between 64 and 77 percent of respondents in Europe said the same (depending on country).  (Read More…)

By on December 4, 2019

fairfax line assembly factory general motors, Image: General Motors

With environmentalism sweeping through the automotive industry of late, manufacturers are spending oodles of cash to fund the continued development of electric vehicles. Unfortunately, the are doing this during a period where the developed world’s taste for cars has already reached its zenith — or so it seems. Growth is slowing in markets across the globe and cuts have to be made somewhere if the industry players want to keep their bottom line positioned firmly in the black.

A recent report from Bloomberg, estimated that around 80,000 auto jobs will be eliminated in the coming years as a result of electrification — with the majority concentrated in the United States, Germany, and United Kingdom. Though the onslaught  of cuts will not be limited to the developed world, nor entirely the fault of EVs.  (Read More…)

By on December 4, 2019

Image: UAW

United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, Matthew Schneider, has said new details about the ever expanding UAW corruption probe have been trickling in. But he’s also criticizing the union for not providing adequate cooperation throughout the multi-year investigative process. Schneider indicated there was new evidence included additional details of malfeasance from former UAW President Gary Jones shared by the union in November. While the prosecutor did not offer details, he said it was the type of information that should have been reported to his office, not publicly.

Automotive News surmised he was likely referencing details released late last month by the union’s executive board in an effort to remove Jones and Region 5 Director Vance Pearson. That report included allegations that Jones let his daughter use a UAW-rented townhouse in Palm Springs, California. Sources familiar with the situation have confirmed that the union publicly released information against the two at roughly the same time it was handed it over to the U.S. attorney’s office.  (Read More…)

By on December 2, 2019

Nissan’s new chief executive, Makoto Uchida, believes now is the time to reassess its corporate partnership with Renault. In case this is the first automotive-related article you’ve read this year, the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance is sickly. Bizarre financial scandals involving the group’s former chairman Carlos Ghosn (and others), internal power struggles, serious money troubles — the situation is rife with headaches. But Uchida says the only way to cope is to publicly recognize the elephant in the room and see what can be done.

“The alliance is critical to reach our goals,” Uchida said at Nissan’s headquarters in Yokohama on Monday. “We need to look at what worked within the alliance, and what didn’t, and decide how to go forward.” (Read More…)

By on November 27, 2019

While the automotive industry continues cleaning itself up via electrification and moral corporate messaging, most aspects of doing business have remained decently dirty. For all this striving for a utopian society, businesses still don’t like losing money and will go to great lengths to screw over the competition.

South Korean battery suppliers SK Innovation and LG Chem are currently clawing at each other like a couple of mad tigers. SK managed to secure a contract to supply Volkswagen Group with EV batteries, leading to the construction of a $1.7 billion factory in Georgia. LG did not, leading to a lawsuit. Both automakers and analysts are worried the litigation is spinning out of control, and could effectively obliterate their ability to do business in the United States. (Read More…)

By on November 25, 2019

A new report indicates that BAIC Motor Corp, Daimler’s primary Chinese joint-venture partner, wants to increase its stake in the company. Currently, BAIC owns 5 percent of the German automaker (purchased in July) with rumors swirling in October that the firm wanted to increase its investment. There were also claims that Geely was attempting to stand in the way of the prospective deal.

While not Daimler’s main squeeze in Asia from a production perspective, Geely actually owns 9.7 percent of the company — giving it quite a bit of leverage. As such, there were murmurings that Geely put the kibosh on any ideas BAIC had on investing further. Geely has rebuffed the accusation. “We are a long-term investor in Daimler. We do not react spontaneously to any volatility and we support Daimler’s management and their strategy,” the firm explained.

Be that as it may, there appears to be a minor power struggle between the two Chinese companies. Both seem interested in strengthening their influence and happen to find themselves in each other’s way.  (Read More…)

By on November 21, 2019

While the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has gradually evolved its testing procedures since its inception, it has hit the accelerator over the past few years, eager to crash into a new era of knowledge… Alright, so it actually just wanted to assess problematic crash trajectories and headlight safety for insurance companies. Still, they’ve been making meaningful changes in a bid to boost overall safety.

On Thursday, the institute said it plans to continue evolving its crash-test procedures. It claims it’s gotten so good at developing side-impact assessments, “the current side ratings no longer help consumers distinguish among vehicles or point the way toward further improvements.”

The solution? Slam bigger, heavier items into a vehicle’s profile and see what happens.  (Read More…)

By on November 19, 2019

If you hop around this country on a semi-regular basis, you’ve likely noticed that California seems better equipped to endure the onslaught of electric vehicles poised to reshape our society. For all the complaints about the state’s managerial issues and a homelessness situation that’s spinning wildly out of control, it’s one of the few places you can regularly encounter EV charging stations without actively looking.

It’s also an area you see them frequently in use. Many states still harbor large distances between charge points that don’t see a lot of use in the first place. But things are different in California. There are dedicated EV stations along most major highways, increasing in frequency the closer to you get to metropolitan hubs. Once inside the city limits, there are are countless office parks, service stations, and parking structures offering ground-floor charging — many of which will actually have cars plugged into them.

You’ll also notice many are broken and some don’t let you pay via a single swipe of your credit card. Instead, the machine will ask you to make an account with whatever company is offering the service, often trying to push you into using a proprietary app. It’s unfortunate and probably the last thing you want to do after scouting out a particularly well-hidden station because the first three you came across were occupied or out of order.  (Read More…)

By on November 14, 2019

Image: GM

A new report from Edmunds tries to make a case against Ford and General Motors placing their small- and medium-sized cars on an iceberg and setting it adrift. We don’t even need to see the metrics to agree. Ditching cars for higher-margin crossovers and SUVs always seemed a little short-sighted. Without entry-level models, you’re likely to get fewer entry-level (i.e. new) customers, and several of the models axed from North American lineups happened to be the most enjoyable to drive.

Selfishly, we like to see plenty of variety among mainstream brands.

Edmunds’ concern isn’t so much about Ford and GM losing money; rather, it’s more about the automakers setting themselves up for failure further down the line. The analysis revealed that 42 percent of Cruze and Focus owners are choosing to stay in the passenger car segment, rather than spending a little (or lot) more to purchase crossovers and SUVs. Meanwhile, 23 percent of Cruze owners and 31 percent of Focus owners who traded in their car in 2019 ended up buying something similar from a competing automaker(Read More…)

By on November 14, 2019

On Thursday, Daimler made an announcement confirming earlier reports that it plans to cut roughly ten percent of its management staff as part of a broader restructuring plan. Financial hardship has become a sign of the times for the auto industry. Most sizable manufacturers are coming off an investment spree aimed at developing new-energy vehicles, autonomous driving systems, and connected services. Unfortunately, those commitments came at roughly the same time the world’s largest auto markets started to collectively plateau.

A broad approach no longer seems feasible for all but the absolute largest automakers on the planet. We’ve seen many attempt to downsize through restructuring or by entering inte partnerships with other firms to share costs — sometimes both. Knowing this as well as anyone, Daimler issued two profit warnings this year as Mercedes-Benz was fined $960 million in an emissions-cheating settlement while hemorrhaging cash through EV investments.  (Read More…)

By on November 11, 2019

Reports have come in from Germany that Mercedes-Benz has decided to reduce its management staff by around 10 percent globally. On Friday, German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung wrote that Daimler CEO Ola Källenius wishes to delete around 1,100 management posts while freezing wages for all 300,000 German employees — citing internal documents from the automaker’s works council.

Handelsblatt also said it intercepted a copy of the letter, with both outlets claiming Daimler would elaborate further on the plan this Thursday. While Mercedes said it couldn’t comment on the matter, its restructuring push was no secret, even before Källenius took over as chairman in May.  (Read More…)

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